5 Ways to Raise Scientifically Literate Kids {and 5 Reasons Why You Should}

There are a million ways to parent, all of them valid in their own way. But the most important obligation of today’s parents is to raise scientifically literate kids. Let’s explore what I mean.

About STEM and Scientific Literacy

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It’s an integrated approach to learning, that views these subjects as interconnected, rather than separate disciplines for separate times and uses. The truth is that in the real world, these four subjects overlap in big ways. It only makes sense that they’re taught that way too.

Scientific literacy, simplified, is the ability to apply science to your daily life. But more eloquently, “Scientific literacy is the capacity to use scientific knowledge, to identify questions and to draw evidence-based conclusions in order to understand and help make decisions about the natural world and the changes made to it through human activity. (OECD 2003:132–33)”.

It’s not “literacy” in the traditional sense of the word, but rather a mindset. The ability to think critically, evaluate data, and apply information.

“[Science] is more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world…” – President Obama

Why Parents Should Focus on Scientific Literacy at Home

 

Many schools struggle to provide an adequate STEM education.

As parents, it’s easy to brush off science and say, “They learn that stuff in school”. The truth is that they may not be. Our public school systems are struggling to provide adequate STEM coursework. Only 73% of fourth graders have teachers who report having the resources they need to adequately teach mathematics. 61% of eighth graders have teachers who report having what they need to adequately teach science. Most elementary classroom science education is happening in less than three hours per week. Only 20% of U.S. high school seniors are grade-level proficient in science.

They’re also struggling to provide educators who hold STEM degrees or even have received professional development in science. Science isn’t part of school performance ratings, so it makes sense that they’d skimp here. Anecdotally, I was shocked by how many of my elementary school colleagues didn’t view science as “important” and would openly admit to frequently skipping it for weeks or even entire semesters.

It’s also easy to discount the importance of technology and computer science education, because Millenials and subsequent generations were virtually born with smart devices in their hands. However, U.S. Millenials ranked last in computer skills against 19 other countries. They know how to use social media, but they may not know how to build a website or troubleshoot problems.

STEM careers are the future.

STEM careers are growing almost three times faster than any other field. 80% of the fastest growing careers require a STEM background.

Yet, there’s a shortage of STEM degree holding professionals. There’s an estimated 3 million STEM jobs unfilled because of a lack of qualified applicants, while only 16% of American high school seniors are interested in pursuing STEM degrees. 60% of this century’s jobs require skills that are only held by 20% of the current workforce.

47% of STEM-related Bachelor degree holders earn more than non-STEM PhD counterparts. STEM degree holders are also less likely to face joblessness, even with lower degrees than their non-STEM counterparts. Most STEM careers don’t require a 4-year degree and yet pay 10% higher than non-STEM careers with similar degree requirements.

STEM needs more diversity.

Only 17% of recent female college graduates had earned a STEM degree and the amount of women working in STEM-related fields has plateaued. Less than 25% of computer science degrees are held by women.

This divergence starts in early elementary school and carries on through high school, with more male high school graduates reporting that math was a favorite subject, despite girls taking tougher STEM related coursework.

More than 80% of the STEM workforce is white or Asian and male. This doesn’t come as a surprise when you look at other races’ access to science and mathematics education. 42% of Native American and 32% of black students don’t have calculus in their high schools. 34% of Native American and 23% of black students don’t have physics in their high schools.

These numbers become even more staggering when you look at the overall poverty rates of schools. Only 26% of the highest poverty schools have computer science courses. Only 43% have physics classes. When you recall that STEM jobs require lesser (or no) degrees for more money than their non-STEM counterparts, it seems like common sense that we should especially encouraging these students to get engaged in STEM.

Scientific literacy skills extend beyond science.

Many STEM skills are actually just good “life skills”. Things like critical thinking, problem solving, evaluating evidence, and good citizenship are all useful outside of a classroom or laboratory. And despite what I muttered under my breath in high school algebra, I actually do find myself using equations and solving for x in every day life.

STEM-focused learning encourages a deeper understanding of subjects. Let’s use a culinary example. If you watch a cooking show, you might pick up some useful tidbits, but you probably couldn’t recreate the recipe from memory. If you were hands-on in the kitchen with the chef, you would probably have a much stronger chance or recreating the recipe again, but also of understanding the cooking methods.

Hands-on STEM is just like that. It unlocks new skill sets, instead of just memorized information. Those skills are now theirs to use and apply to any subject or situation they want.

Kids want to learn.

More importantly than any of this, kids want to learn – and they want to learn about science! 81% of teenagers think science is interesting, but only 37% like their science coursework. Personally, I think there’s probably a pretty strong correlation between the lack of hands-on learning opportunities and enjoyment of the coursework. Kids crave new information, but they want it delivered in a meaningful way.

Even with the uphill struggle in the classroom, 50% of male and 43% of female high school seniors report that math is their favorite subject. 48% of male and 34% of female high school seniors report that science is their favorite subject. While those numbers aren’t as staggering as I’d like, that’s still a lot of kids with a passion for STEM education!

Science-Minded Parenting

Are you convinced about the importance of scientific literacy? I hope so. Here are my suggestions for bringing STEM to life at home.

Read. Read. Read. (And Watch. Watch. Watch.)

There are limitless benefits of reading and literacy in general. We’ve all heard the cliche about reading opening doors to new worlds, but more importantly, reading opens doors to understanding our own world. Science opens doors to understanding our own world.

Encourage your kids to read to themselves. Read to your kids. Not because you have to, but because it’s exciting. Instill the wonder and amazement of reading in them from a young age. Don’t wait until it’s a big cloud of required reading and test stress and vocabulary words. Teach them to love not only the experience of reading a book, but to also love the power that reading can unlock. What other skill can unlock unlimited knowledge?

Read nonfiction. Read about space, dinosaurs, animals, history, human beings, volcanoes, weather, read it all. Read about famous scientists, explorers, astronauts, archaeologists, chemists, doctors. But also read fiction and not just science fiction. Engage their imaginations in worlds outside of their own. Books foster creativity and creativity gives way to exploration and experimentation and then it all comes back to… science.

Turn on shows and movies that engage their brains in those same concepts too. Watch them together and talk about them. Ask them questions and answer their questions. Expose them to documentaries and famous scientists on television.

Create an environment of science.

21032590_10155863005514610_89048780117438341_nScience is literally everywhere. Point it out. Make it a habit to look for the science in the daily minutiae. When it starts to rain, explain the water cycle. When they’re picking up rocks, talk about geology. When they’re playing with dinosaurs, tell them their names and explain that the plastic could actually be made of dinosaurs. When they’re dancing, explain the kinetic energy that’s propelling them.

Gift them a microscope, telescope, binoculars, chemistry set, or even building blocks for the next holiday or birthday.  Hang a model solar system in their room, or even a map of the world or the stars. Even passive exposure like robot bedsheets or animal play sets can unlock their curiosity.

Consider building a scientist’s kit, full of common household materials, so they’re ready to experiment at a moment’s notice. Or buy pre-made science kits, like robot sets, circuits, or even candy making. Include them in your gardening and yard work, car or house maintenance, and computer work.

Use real words with them. Expand their vocabularies. Help them with their homework, science and otherwise. Less than 50% of parents sit down to help their kids with homework 3 or more times per week. Use this time to connect with them and figure out what they’re learning, so you can reinforce it at home.

Talk to them about the big stuff too. Don’t assume that a concept is too heavy or too abstract for them to grasp. My children’s comprehension levels take my breath away on a daily basis. Make sure yours are too.

Encourage questions (and research).

All the toddler moms are currently saying to themselves, “I’ve got this covered”. But seriously, questioning is the core of science. Every great scientific discovery and innovation started with a question. And not even necessarily a “good” question. A lot of science is built on what seemed to be preposterous ideas.

Model questions for them. Ask them leading questions, open ended questions, silly questions, easy questions. Just ask and let them construct responses with their own brain power. Ask them to describe or compare objects. Ask them to summarize something. Ask them anything.

And let them ask questions too. Model the Scientific Method for them. Teach them how to find answers to their questions, outside of a Google search. If they’re curious why something works a certain way, don’t just tell them. Help them construct a hypothesis and look for data to confirm or disprove it. Pull out videos or books or set up an experiment to turn their question’s answer into meaningful knowledge and learning.

Expand the horizon.

17155212_10155264798154610_2548876235770520097_nThere’s this gigantic world, expansive universe, and limitless knowledge out there. Engage them in that. Show them that they’re citizens not only of their house or town or country, but citizens of the world, of the universe.

Take them to museums and science centers. Go to the zoo or aquarium. Make road trip stops at educational destinations. Sign them up for activities that will foster curiosity. Expose them to as much as you can. My family lives in Louisiana, a state that’s at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to education, opportunity, and pretty much everything else. Even still, we’ve found two children’s museums, two science centers, state parks, nature centers, NASA, LIGO, planetariums, a marine biology center, zoo, aquarium, insectarium, science camps and clubs, and more, all within a couple of hours of home. Don’t be fooled into thinking your city or state doesn’t have science to offer. Go look!

More than that, let them experience all kinds of new things. Again, science is everywhere, whether you’re looking for it or not. Art, history, cooking, sports, roller coasters, race cars. Expose them to the world and the science hiding in every corner.

Let them experiment.

Experiments don’t have to happen in a lab. They can happen in the kitchen, backyard, or at the dining room table. Take a step back and let them explore things. Build a tower, mix a solution, take something apart, or even bake cookies. Like Dr. Tyson said in the video above, any life experience can be an experiment and opportunity to learn.

Play in the backyard. Go explore your neighborhood pond or community green space. Look up at the stars. Dig through your pantry. They all hold unlimited potential for scientific inquiry. And most importantly, let them use their imaginations. Imagining is experimenting.

How do you encourage scientific literacy in your home? Leave a comment below!

 

121 Ways to Teach Yourself About Science

If you’re like me, you might have hated science in school. Or just didn’t understand the value. Or didn’t retain a single thing. Maybe all of the above.

My freshman honors biology class was like torture, sitting in a lab that we never touched. My college anatomy class was hours of note taking that never got applied to anything but test taking. Conversely, my physical science class was so basic that I hardly ever went.

When I look back at my science education, the word boring comes to mind in big neon lights. But now, STEM is evolving. It’s engaging and humorous and really, really exciting. The truth is that STEM has always been this way, but we were just more disconnected from it. Now, we have more information at our fingertips. I mean, Elon Musk just launched a Tesla Roadster into space and we get to see pictures!

If you find yourself wishing that you’d paid more attention in science class, especially as your kids learn, there are tons of resources out there. Here’s my ultimate list of resources to teach yourself about science!

Some of the links included in my posts are affiliate links. That means that if you follow the link and purchase something, I earn a small commission for my recommendation. This support helps keep my site free and is much appreciated!

Books

Biology

Chemistry

Mathematics

Physics and the Cosmos

Religion & the Afterlife

Technology & Engineering

Women in Science

Miscellaneous Reads


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Streaming Series and Documentaries

I have limited time and brainpower these days (see: two toddlers), so I do a lot of science consumption by video. Here are some of my favorites on popular streaming services!

Netflix

Bill Nye Saves the World – Bill Nye the Science Guy for grownups
Brain Games – entertaining series exploring the tricks our brains can play on us
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey – an incredible series about our universe
Dinotasia –
CGI storytelling of prehistoric creatures
Edge of the Universe – latest cosmic discoveries
Einstein’s Biggest Blunder – scientists explore Einstein’s theory of relativity
The Farthest Voyager in Space –
all about NASA’s 1977 launch of space probes
Great Human Odyssey –
scientists map humans’ journey from Africa
Horizon: Secrets of the Solar System – 
advances in astronomy
The Inexplicable Universe with Neil deGrasse Tyson – Neil talks technology and wonders of the Universe
Into the Inferno – amazing footage of volcanoes
Life – explore the variety of life on Earth
Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World – the history of the internet
The Mars Generation – teenagers at Space Camp
Mega Builders – engineering of awe-inspiring structures
Nature’s Greatest Events – how seasonal changes affect wildlife
Orbit: Earth’s Extraordinary Journey –
this series gets bonus points for female hosts
Planet Earth –
 travel the Earth from your couch (Note: all of the BBC Earth documentaries are worth a watch, like The Blue Planet, Planet Earth II, Frozen Planet, etc)
Race of Life – how wild animals continue to survive
The Secret Rules of Modern Living: Algorithms –
how they work and where we can find them
The Story of Maths – the history of math, from ancient Egypt to today
Tesla: Master of Lightning – awesome biodoc about Nikola Tesla
White Rabbit Project – from the producers of “MythBusters”, history’s greatest hits

Hulu

Destination Wild – travel around the world to see wildlife in their natural habitats
Hello World – a global look at the inventors and scientists of the future
How It’s Made – how everyday objects are engineered and manufactured
Mojo’s The Circuit – latest tech and gadget news
MythBusters – 
the classic show that busts urban legends and myths
NASA 360 – a look at NASA developed technology that’s changed our lives
NASA X – new innovations by NASA scientists
Secrets of Your Mind – an inside look at case studies about the human brain
StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson – all things space with Neil

Amazon Prime

The Amazing World of Gravity – all about the physics of gravity
Bacterial World: Microbes that Rule Our World – all about bacteria
Birth of the Earth – the story of our planet
Clouds Are Not Spheres – a look at fractal geometry
Edison: The Father of Invention – a biodoc about the inventor
Einstein and the Theory of Relativity – learn about the theory and the scientists still conducting experiments about it
Everything and Nothing: the Science of Empty Space – 
a unique look at empty space
The Fabric of the Cosmos – a look at what makes up the Cosmos
The Fantastical World of Hormones – a look at the chemicals that control our bodies
Hawking – a biopic about Stephen Hawking and his incredible contributions
Henry Ford –
a biopic about Henry Ford and his innovations
How the Grand Canyon Was Made – new evidence of how the Grand Canyon was carved
Life on Us: A Microscopic Safari –
 a microscopic look at the creatures that live on our bodies
Mapping the Future: The Wonder of Algorithms – how algorithms can predict our lives
The Mystery of Dark Matter – explore what we know about dark matter
Nikola Tesla: The Genius Who Lit the World – a look a the father of our modern technological age
Order and Disorder: The Forces that Drive the Universe – a look at the laws of the Universe
The Poisoner’s Handbook – a screen adaption in the spirit of the book
Ring of Fire – explore the geological wonders of the Pacific
Sahara: Altering the Course of History – a look at the great Saharan Desert and the life that used to live there
Sight: The Story of Vision – how our eyes and brains help us see
Sonic Magic: The Wonder of Science and Sound – how sound has shaped our history
Virus Empire: From Sars to Ebola – how viruses have evolved and affect our world

Other Ways to Learn

There is a ton of information out there on the internet. Not all of it is good information, but there are piles of awesome YouTube videos, blogs (like mine, right?), and websites just waiting to answer your most burning science questions. If you’re ever wondering about something, look it up! Add terms like “101” or “introduction” to the subject matter and see what you can find.

One of my favorite ways to learn is to visit local museums and science centers. Some communities have more resources than others, but most of us find ourselves within driving distance of something! Also, check out your local museums, community centers, libraries’ adult programming departments, and universities for opportunities. You never know who might be coming to speak!

And as always, you can send me a message with a topic you’d like to see covered!

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Did I miss any awesome resources? Leave a comment or send me a message to update the list!

Ice Cube on a String {Learning about Freezing Point Depression}

IMG_0127It’s been a few days since I posted a new experiment. I hope you’ve been experimenting without us! We’ve been busy preparing for Ruby’s dance recital… and I’ve been resting my pregnant body. This sudden summer heat is taking a lot out of me!

That’s why we decided to do something quick, easy, and COLD. This is a fun experiment that can be turned into a party game. You’ll stump a lot of people when you ask them to get an ice cube out of a glass with only a salt shaker and piece of string – no touching allowed.

 

Ice Cube on a String

Materials:

  • A full cup of cold water
  • Ice cube(s)
  • 1′ long length of string (we used butcher twine from the kitchen drawer)
  • Table salt

Procedure:

  1. IMG_0962Place your ice cube in the cup of cold water. Make sure the water is cold, so that the ice cube doesn’t melt too quickly before you even begin. We learned that through our first failed attempt!
  2. Lay your string carefully across the top of the cup, making sure it has good contact with your ice cube.
  3. Pour salt over the ice cube and string.
  4. Wait a few seconds and grab the ends of your string. Your ice cube and string will have frozen together and voila! You have an ice cube on a string!

 

The Science:

IMG_0964Ice is frozen water. When liquid water reaches 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius, it becomes ice, a solid. That means the freezing point for water is 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, when you add salt (a solute) to the water (a solvent), you create a solution, which is two substances mixed together. The salt and water solution must get even colder to freeze into ice, than just plain water alone. This is called freezing point depression. With a 10% salt (and 90% water) solution, it must be 20 degrees Fahrenheit or -6 degrees Celsius to freeze. With a 20% salt (and 80% water) solution, it must be even colder at 2 degrees Fahrenheit or -16 degrees Celsius. Brrrr! As nice as that sounds on a hot, humid summer day like today, that’s reeeeeally cold! Frostbite cold!

IMG_0966If you’ve ever been to or lived up north, you may have seen big salt trucks driving around pouring salt onto icy patches of road or sidewalks. That’s because when the salt mixes with the ice on the ground, it melts. Many people think that the salt somehow heats up the ice and melts it, but that’s not the case! As we talked about above, the salt just lowers the freezing point for the water, converting it back into a liquid instead of allowing it to stay frozen as solid ice. It should be noted that salt can’t melt solid ice directly – it must be mixed with water and then applied to the ice. However, most ice and snow is actually covered in a thin layer of water, so when you apply salt on top, nature has already helped you create your salt water solution with no effort needed from you!

For this specific experiment, the salt lowers the melting point of the water that’s been frozen into the ice cubes. Because there’s so little salt and so much water, the salt doesn’t do a very good job of lowering the freezing point for long, so the water quickly freezes back  into solid ice, trapping your string in the process.

Let me know if you try this experiment – or better yet, if you challenge your friends to figure out how to make it work! We plan on trying to stump a couple of our friends with it this week!

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5 Science Gifts for Tiny Toddler Scientists

Birthday party season is upon us! For some reason, a large cluster of the Science Kids’ friends were born in the spring/summer. I feel like we spend most of our weekends during this time attending birthday parties of the kids we love!

And what else would the Science Mom give, but science? (Dinosaurs, actually. We are kind of known for always including something dinosaur-related. But that’s still science, right?) I keep these bookmarked on Amazon Prime, so they’re ready to be ordered, tossed in a gift bag (along with a book and possibly a dinosaur or two), and head out to a friend on their special day!

So, without further ado, here’s my list of my five favorite, fun science gifts to give our tiny scientist friends!

Please note that some of the links included are affiliate links. That means that if you follow the link and purchase something, I earn a small commission for my recommendation. This support helps keep my resources free and is much appreciated, so please consider using the link if you decide to purchase something from one of my posts!

1. GeoSafari Jr. My First Microscope

At under $20, this little “microscope” is a fun way to introduce science equipment to little scientists.

It features 2.5-8x magnification, which is more like a magnifying glass and obviously significantly less than a standard microscope. However, that’s why I like this microscope for toddlers. At these lower magnifications with a larger field of view, little brains can begin to understand how microscopes work and what they’re looking at.

It also features an LED light, and non-skid feet to keep it in place. Its chunky design is also great for little hands to still be able to manipulate it independently.

On a personal note, I gave my daughter and her best friend both this microscope for Christmas two years ago. I’ve been surprised by how durable it is, in part thanks to its plastic lenses. My kids are not delicate and it’s surviving just beautifully! They’ve both been having fun looking at leaves, dead bugs, their hands, and random household items.

2. Primary Science Binoculars

For around $13, this is a really adorable pair of binoculars for little bird watchers and nosy toddlers.

I love the chunky design here too. Combined with the rubber eye pieces, plastic lenses, and textured grips, it is really designed for little hands to hold and use independently. I also like that the neck strap is a breakaway design.

The binoculars have a 6x magnification, which is, again, just the perfect amount for them to begin to understand the concept of using binoculars and also what they are actually looking at.

My daughter has taken her pair all over the place, from road trips to the park to local music events.

3. Learning Resources Primary Science Lab Set

Coming in under $20, this lab set is probably my favorite thing to gift little scientists. The pieces in this set are “iconic” science, right?

This 12-piece set includes everything they need to start exploring the lab world, including a beaker, magnifying glass, funnel, eyedropper, flask, tweezers, goggles, and test tubes! It also comes with activity cards to inspire both them and the adults helping them.

Again, the chunky design of these tools makes them ideal for little scientists to work semi-independently and feel like they’re in control of their own experiments. While they’re plastic and kid-friendly in every way, they’re still functional and we routinely use them in our experiments at home!

If you’re looking for something more, there’s also a 45-piece deluxe lab set that expands to include more lab equipment and a ViewScope. Learning Resources also makes a kid-sized lab coat that’s at the top of my daughter’s wish list!

My First Mind Blowing Science Kit

I mean, who isn’t excited when they see the title of this science kit? Mind blowing! And for only $15!

It’s packed with fun goodies to conduct a variety of science experiments and introduce STEM principles, including things like test tubes and a pipette, as well as chemicals like red cabbage powder, citric acid, and baking soda. There are some household items you’ll need to supplement the kit, so check the list before you plan to get started.

This kit definitely requires some adult supervision and assistance, but you definitely don’t need to be a scientist to help. Adults will have as much fun as their little scientists with activities like a sunset in a tube, a color-changing volcano, and jiggly crystals.

5. Boley Big Bucket of Dinosaurs

At around $15, this 40-piece dinosaur set provides lots of fun play for budding little paleontologists.

This set combines realistic-looking (not cartoony, like so many sets) dinosaurs and landscape pieces that encourage a lot of imaginary play, but can also open the door for lots of educational questions and talk about dinosaurs.

We’ve had this set in our house for over two years now and the figures have held up really well to almost daily play. I also like that it comes with a storage bucket, so they’re not all over the place. That being said, we did convert our train table into a dinosaur landscape for a while, thanks in part to some of the landscape pieces that come in this bucket. It was a lot of fun to see my daughter’s imagination at work as we constructed it!

Do you have a go-to science gift that didn’t make my list? Leave me a comment!

The Science Mom’s New Obsession {Project Mc2}

IMG_0430I spent the morning doing my favorite thing – aimlessly wandering the aisles at Target. That’s where I stumbled upon my new obsession and that obsession is Project Mc2. I had NO idea that this show or toy collection existed! Cool STEAM girls? This was made for my family.

And before you ask, NO. This is NOT a sponsored post in any way. Project Mc2 doesn’t even know the Science Mom Blog exists, as far as I know!

We are streaming our first episode on Netflix, as I type. The first season is airing now, with the second set to debut in August. The show follows teenage spy McKeyla and her brainiac friends as they use their STEAM skills to save the day. They’re stylish, witty, and super smart, which are all qualities that I want for my girls as they grow up! While other girls are cooing over a space traveling prince coming to town and wanting to be his “space princess”, the Project Mc2 girls are wanting to “pick his brain about his spacecraft’s orbital velocity”.

IMG_0431As for the toys, well, my daughter was just excited to see a Barbie-esque doll with a dinosaur shirt on. In fact, I’m not sure that she’s ever seen another little girl with a dinosaur shirt on, in real life or toy life. The Project Mc2 dolls are sold separately or with exciting experiments. You can also check out their separate branded kits (sans dolls) to make soda can robots, rock sugar jewelry, lip balm labs, and more! You can check them all out on their website here.

Once you’re browsing their website, you can play games, take fun quizzes, ask the girls questions, and find videos on cool experiments, ideas, and Q&As.

Anyway, the Science Family is officially obsessed! Let us know if you are too!

 

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Making It Rain {Learning About the Water Cycle}

IMG_0127Another day, another project as we experiment our way through the summer! We hope you’re joining us – or at least getting tempted to.

You can, of course, follow our experiments here, but also on the Science Mom Facebook page! You can also find other fun experiments on the Science Mom Pinterest boards or scrolling through this summer series here on the blog!

FullSizeRender 2Today, I decided to use Mother Nature for inspiration. After all, the radar was looking like this. Bah! The forecast kept getting pushed back further and further, but we skipped our trip to the splash pad anyway. Who needs a splash pad when you’re getting wet in your own kitchen and backyard, right?

I decided on not one, not two, but three projects today, as a splash pad apology to my toddler. I’m still not sure she forgave me for missing out on the fun with her best friend, Jax, but we had fun anyway!

 

Making It Rain, Part One

Materials:

  • A shallow dish (or any kind of pan, tray, bowl, or water-holding vessel)
  • Cotton balls
  • Water

Procedure:

  1. IMG_0310Fill your water-holding vessel with water. An inch or so should do it.
  2. Take a cotton ball “cloud” to explore. Note that the cotton ball is fluffy and doesn’t weigh much. It’s also very dry.
  3. Slowly, dip the cotton ball “cloud” into the water, allowing the water to slowly soak the cotton ball. Now your cloud is filled with rain-to-be. Note that it feels heavy and may have even changed shapes.
  4. Lift the cotton ball out of the water. The cotton ball is so saturated that water droplets will begin to fall back into the water-holding vessel. The more saturated, the faster the rain drops fall.
  5. Explain that this is [roughly] how the water cycle works. Not sure how the water cycle works exactly? No worries. Read on!

 

Making It Rain, Part Two

Materials:

  • Clear cup or jar (plastic or glass is fine)
  • Shaving cream
  • Water
  • Food coloring

Procedure:

  1. IMG_0315Fill your cup with water, leaving a small space at the top for your shaving cream.
  2. On top of the water, squirt shaving cream to create a nice, fluffy “cloud”.
  3. Carefully add drops of food coloring to the top of your shaving cream cloud.
  4. As the cloud gets heavier with the added food coloring, it will slowly begin to “rain” food coloring down into the cup. (Make sure you’re adding the food coloring slowly. Once it makes its way through the shaving cream, it will spread through the water quickly. If you’ve added too much, the water will rapidly change color and the experiment gets decidedly boring instantly!)

 

Making It Rain, Part Three

Materials:

  • Large glass jar (or bowl or measuring cup)
  • Paper plate or bowl large enough to cover the opening of the glass container
  • Water
  • Ice cubes

IMG_0309

Procedure:

  1. Heat water, either in the microwave or bring to a boil on the stovetop. (I recommend that a parent take care of this step and warn little hands that the glass jar will be hot hot hot!
  2. Transfer the water to your glass jar.
  3. Quickly, top the jar with a paper plate. Cover the plate with a pile of ice cubes.
  4. Watch as a mini water cycle emerges inside your glass jar!

 

The Science:

Rain is just one small part of the water cycle, the really awesome loop that Earth’s water has been traveling through from the ground to the sky and round and round again for billions of years. Water is never really “still”, even when it’s not actively going through the water cycle. Most of Earth’s water is stored in our oceans (roughly 96.5% of it, or 321,000,000 cubic miles) and we know the ocean is never still!

Water-Cycle-Art2A_mediumTo explain the water cycle to kids, it’s easiest to break it down into four stages: evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and collection.

Let’s start with evaporation. That’s when the sun heats up collected water, which turns it into water vapor (a gas that we usually can’t see). This is how water begins its journey from the ground back up into the atmosphere. There are a couple of other ways that water can leave the ground. One of those ways is sublimation, which is when solid water (ice or snow) is heated and turns directly into water vapor. This is the process you see when dry ice turns into a big cloud of water vapor, or directly from a solid into a gas, without making a pitstop and becoming a liquid. (To be clear, this is not like when ice melts and turns into water and then eventually would evaporate into water vapor!) Another way that water evaporates is through transpiration, which is basically plant sweat! Water travels from the soil, through the plant roots, and transpires (sweats) through the plants’ leaves to become water vapor and head up into the atmosphere. It’s estimated that about 10% of the water in Earth’s atmosphere is from plant transpiration.

The next stop for all of that water vapor is condensation. As water vapor moves higher and higher into the atmosphere, it finds colder air. That colder air turns the water vapor back into a liquid. Those cooling water molecules find tiny particles in the air (like dust, smoke, or dirt) to cling to and form cloud droplets (very, very tiny drops of condensed water), which collect and grow to form clouds (this part of the process can be called coalescence). You see condensation all the time. When you pour a cold drink into a glass, you may see condensation form on the outside. That’s warm water vapor from the air around your glass being cooled by your drink and turning into water droplets. Your glass is kind of your own personal cloud!

As the cloud grows and gets heavier, we prepare for precipitation. The condensed water falls back to the ground in the form of rain, hail, snow, or sleet. This is no small task, as it takes millions of those little cloud droplets to collide and form a single rain drop. Once a rain drop is formed, it then has to have enough velocity to make it out of the cloud and fall as precipitation! In a really heavy rainstorm, the drops are falling at a speed of 24 feet per second – that’s a little over 16 miles per hour. There are some parts of the world where hardly any rain at all falls (less than 0.1 inches per year) and some where tons and tons of rain falls (900 inches per year). There’s a place in Chile where no rain (none!) fell for 14 years! 14! Rain is a pretty incredible thing when you stop and think about it all, right?

After the rain falls, the next stage is collection. That’s where the water settles here on Earth. Like I said before, about 96.5% of Earth’s water is stored in the oceans. The rest of that water (3.5%) is what we have in the atmosphere, lakes, ice caps and glaciers, rivers, streams, puddles, and everywhere else in the world! That really gives you an idea of the huge volume of water in the ocean.

And just like that, we are looping our way back through the water cycle. There are tons of other fun experiments and projects to learn more about it… and we will definitely revisit all of this again soon! For now, it’s time to check our rain gauge one last time and call it a [rainy] night!

I’ll leave you with one last thought. The water that you’re taking a bath in tonight could be the very same water that a dinosaur bathed in too. RAWR!

 

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Sandwich Bag Blasts {Learning About Acids and Bases}

IMG_0127Today marked our first project, as we experiment our way through the summer. We hope you’re joining us!

If you’re spending your summer with science, let us know on social media or in the comments section here. We’d love to hear about other families’ experimental summers!

These sandwich bag blasts were our version of celebratory fireworks this afternoon. Lucy (daughter #2) is currently in utero and there were concerns about her cerebellum development at our anatomy scan. Today, our MFM specialist gave her a clean bill of health and released us back to my regular OB-GYN. It’s a major weight off of our shoulders, so we were thrilled to celebrate the news with some backyard explosions! BANG BOOM POP HOORAY! BABY LUCY IS OKAY!

 

Sandwich Bag Blasts

Materials:

  • Zip lock sandwich bag
  • Paper towel
  • Baking soda (1-1/2 tbsp)
  • Vinegar (1/2 cup)
  • Warm water (1/4 cup)

 

Procedure:

  1. Check your sandwich bag for holes. If it’s not water-tight, you won’t get that magnificent BANG that young scientists crave. You can check it by filling it with water and shaking it around to spot leaks – or just rely on your eyesight to identify any holes.
  2. Rip your paper towel into a 6″ square (roughly, into quarters).
  3. Pour 1-1/2 tbsp of baking soda into the middle of one paper towel square.
  4. Fold up the paper towel, so the baking soda is safely nestled inside a pocket.
  5. Add the 1/2 c of vinegar and 1/4 c of warm water to the sandwich bag.
  6. Quickly, add the paper towel pocket into the sandwich bag and seal it. Emphasis on quickly.
  7. Shake, shake, shake your bag to get the reaction really going.
  8. Set down your sandwich bag, step back, and watch it swell, before BANG! The bag pops and you can call yourself the Sandwich Bag Bomb Squad.

 

 

The Science:

Almost all liquids can be qualified as either an acid or a base. Acids produce more hydrogen  (H+) ions when added to water, which deems them more acidic. Meanwhile, bases produce more hydroxide (OH-) when added to water, which deems them more, you guessed it, basic. You can thank chemist Svante Arrhenius for this classification system!

Acids (the ones with more hydrogen ions) have a sour taste and can even dissolve other materials (we call that “corrosive”). In fact, the word acid is derived from the Latin word acidus, which means “sour”. The best example of an acid is our own stomach acid, that helps us break down the foods we eat.

Bases (the ones with more hydroxide ions) can have a bitter taste and tend to be on the more slimy (think: icky) side. We also call bases “alkali” because they are “alkaline” (not acidic). An example of a base would be soap – the soap we wash our bodies with and even laundry or dish soap!

Acids-and-Alkalis-The-pH-ScaleAll of these liquids have a place within the pH scale, which ranges from 0-14. Strong acids make up the lower part of the scale (0-4), while strong bases make up the higher part of the scale (10-14). In the middle of the pH scale is 7, which is “neutral” and is neither acidic or basic. The best example of a neutral is water

Both very acidic and very basic liquids can be equally dangerous, so it’s best to work with items within the middle of the PH scale when we do experiments like this! Professional chemists use those strong acids and bases to create big reactions in chemistry labs, so if you like explosions and reactions, you might have found your future major or career!

In this particular experiment, the vinegar (acid) and baking soda (base) cause a chemical reaction that produces carbon dioxide. That carbon dioxide fills the bag and, after running out of room to continue expanding, pops the bag open with our thrilling BANG!

 

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5 Fun Kids’ Science Experiment Books

As much as I love Pinterest, it can be time consuming to sort through all of the boards and pins and blog posts to find experiments to try. By the time I find them, I’m done! I don’t want to experiment anymore!

So, that’s when I turn to my trusty collection of books to look for experiments.

Here are my five favorite books on my shelf!

1. 365 Simple Science Experiments with Everyday Materials

61d0SZTwUWL._SX436_BO1,204,203,200_This book is chocked full of truly simple science experiments, most of which only require basic supplies already floating around your house (like a bottle and wad of paper, for instance). It’s the perfect book to grab when you’re faced with a chorus of “I’M BORED!” this summer.

Bonus: Grab “365 MORE Simple Science Experiments with Everyday Materials” when you work your way through the first 365!

2. Kitchen Science Lab for Kids

61nYRSXSiPL._SX496_BO1,204,203,200_No, this isn’t a cookbook, exactly. But it is full of exciting projects that will entertain the youngest and oldest scientists at your house with “ingredients” found in your kitchen. The safety moms among us will enjoy her safety tips and attention to detail throughout the book.

Can’t Miss Experiments:
Frankenworms
Rock Candy
Pizza Box Solar Oven
Vegetable Vampires

 

3. The Book of Totally Irresponsible Science: 64 Daring Experiments for Young Scientists

61slzmdLAxL._SX294_BO1,204,203,200_Who could resist a title like that, right? If there’s anything that can engage an uninterested young scientist, it’s promise of irresponsibility and daring adventure. This book delivers with a lot of fun explosions and messes, best intended for an outdoor setting. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted experimenters (potato guns, Frankenstein hands, homemade lightning, and more)… which is precisely what we love about this book!

On a side note, the book is really aesthetically pleasing too. It doesn’t look or feel like a science book, which makes it all the more appealing for your hesitant scientists.

 

4. Dad’s Book of Awesome Science Experiments

518O7IuSl-L._SX403_BO1,204,203,200_Admittedly, I am the science experiment nerd of this household, with my husband being the nature/conservation nerd, so I wasn’t sold when I looked at the title of this book. However, it is really well written to engage a wide range of ages, not insulting anyone’s intelligence, but still presenting the science in understandable terms for kids.

This book will have your scientists doing everything from polishing pennies to making straw balloon rocket blasters. With only 30 experiments in the book, they’re all well detailed, with color photos to help guide you through the process.

5. Kids’ Book of Simple Machines

61Augt7G+uL._SY498_BO1,204,203,200_I love this book on simple machines for many reasons, but especially because it’s a topic usually ignored for the more glamorous chemistry-based reactions. Just like in the movies, the explosions get all the attention!

The six simple machines are made equally thrilling here, with fun projects and detailed explanations to really show their worth!

 

Have you used any of these books with your families? Have other favorites? Let me know in the comments! I always love book suggestions.

Now, go forward, read, and experiment!

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